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Botanium: Urban Gardening for Everyone

08 Feb, 2017
Botanium founders
The three startup founders of Botanium (from left): Johannes Roselius, Mario Sanchez and Rasmus Tretow

Ever wanted to grow chilies and basil without having to take care of them? Now you can. Botanium is a new kind of smart system for growing edible plants where you only add water and nutrients. The pot itself takes care of the rest, watering at a regular pace. Plants grow bigger and faster because it uses small leca balls instead of conventional soil. The drainage system is constructed so that water circulates in the pot’s mini ecosystem, leaving the plant moist at all times and never flooded.

Botanium is founded by designer Rasmus Tretow, engineer Johannes Roselius and electronics engineer Mario Sanchez. I met up with them for a chat at SSES Campus, where they’ve set up their office for the past three months in the SSES Campus Fellowship program. When I talk to them, they’re right in the middle of their kickstarter campaign, aiming to raise 500 000 SEK to be able to begin manufacturing their product. So far they’ve well exceeded their expectations: With nine days left of the campaign they’ve raised 888 074 SEK and 1 148 backers.

Three years back, designer Rasmus Tretow was tired of buying fresh basil and chilies from the groceries he could use only once or killing his kitchen herbs because of his lack of know-how and the time needed to care for them. He wanted plants that survived without being an expert gardener. So he teamed up with engineer Johannes Roselius and electronics expert Mario Sanchez to find a way to make a pot that would take care of itself.

A year ago, Johannes and Rasmus started talking about how to take it a step further. Until then, Rasmus and Johannes had been doing it on the side, as they were both working at the design studio Reload Design. Johannes, with a past in product development and consulting for different companies, started talking to suppliers and they began making plans of how to manufacture it in the future. At that point they brought in Mario to help with the electronics. Mario also had experience with startups and product development, being one of the co-founders of Tinitell a couple of years earlier. Rasmus is also the 'voice of user' – the one who gets his hands dirty trying to find out how something really works.

Rasmus: I’m really geeky when it comes to growing stuff. I’ve been trying out many different methods over the past years. I’ve tried different leca and different watering schemes, different nutrients and testing plants, finding out what works and what doesn’t work.

Johannes: Rasmus' initial vision was to keep Botanium simple. I’m not a growing enthusiast but I love to have products like this where I can grow without having to think about a lot of things. We wanted to reduce the complexity of it, so that anybody could be a grower.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Johannes: The kickstarter campaign. We have spent a lot of time producing it and marketing Botanium. None of us really has any marketing experience. We are designers and engineers, we know how to produce a product, not telling people about it.

So how did you do the kickstarter campaign?

Rasmus: We did a lot of research on the internet on how to make kickstarter campaigns. We also had a contact that had done a lot of kickstarter campaigns before. He gave us a lot of pointers.

JohannesWe got advice from friends who did kickstarter campaigns in the past. They showed us where to go.

Rasmus: A kickstarter project is not just something you do over the weekend. It’s a lot of hard work. You have to take it seriously.

Mario: A lot of planning, a lot of patience…

Rasmus: You can’t expect to do it all by yourself. You need to get in touch with people who knows graphics, video production and all sorts of stuff.

What will be the next step?

Mario: Industrialisation. We are going to make it into a real product. What you see now are only prototypes. So now we are going to make mouldings for all parts and begin producing it on a large scale, certify it and sell it.

Johannes: We have a lot of ideas within the brand of Botanium. We want to sell accessories for it, like seeds, nutrients and consumables. We also have ideas for other products.

How has your time with the SSES Fellowhip worked out for you?

Johannes: We think the SSES Fellowship has worked very well. The atmosphere here is great, it's very laid back. We’ve been able to talk to a mentor, Ulf, to get the help we need. But the office space has been the number one best thing. We’ve had our prototypes here, being able to test them. We’ve had meetings here as well.

Rasmus: And we’ve got contacts as well. For instance when we were recording our movie. I don’t think we would have been able to do it if it weren’t for the contacts we got at SSES.

How did you find out about SSES?

Johannes: Mario has taken courses here at SSES, and both me and Mario has studied at KTH.